Thursday, July 7, 2011


Monday, July 4. Independence Day in the US, a chance to slouch on the couch, grab the remote, whip open a can of wobbly pop, and watch America’s favorite pastime on the idiot box. Nothing like watching professional athletes do what they do best. The buzz of competition, the exhilaration of the unknown, the rivalries, rooting for your heroes and vilifying the enemy. No, I am not talking about the baseball – I am talking about the Hot-Dog Eating contest!

Yes! Prime time television. Nothing beats watching Joey Chestnut thrust 62 hot-dogs down his gullet in 10 minutes with morsels flying in every direction, all over his face, cheeks bulging to the point of breakage while holding in the urge to vomit, in front of hundreds of screaming fans that no doubt have the same impulse. There was also a women’s event this year. Nothing sexier than a broad eating like a wood chipper. Yummy. [Photo: Sonya Thomas who won the women's Hot-Dog eating contest with 42 of them. Talk about a dream date... "honey, there's a spot on your chin..."]

This was on ESPN. America’s leading sports network. So eating is a sport? Chestnut – a professional eater - earned $10,000 for his engorgement effort and no doubt a few endorsement deals. I wonder what companies would hire him? Who makes those gag-bags on airplanes? Anyway, it got me thinking of what other non-sports I have seen on ESPN. Here is a short list:

• Lumberjack. Chopping wood? Climbing a tree? Running on a log on the water? So now a job is a sport too? Maybe we should try professional mining. Coal shoveling…? Mine-shaft-collapse-dash-for-freedom..?
• Electronic darts. Not even real darts – which isn’t a sport either. I remember playing electronic darts in pubs in Germany. It was only fun after a few Hefeweizens.
• Spelling Bee. We all know about this one, but seriously? Watching young teens spell words none of us have ever heard of or know their meaning. Why can’t they spell helpful stuff? Like… rhythm, or is it rythym, or rhythym? Anyway, what’s next here? Cursive writing? Long division?
• Scrabble. Nothing like seeing someone use ‘z’, ‘x’, and ‘q’ in the same 7 letter word… with triple score!! Shoot me now.
• Poker. Watching shady characters with real gambling issues. Awesome. I’ve also seen “Intervention” on channel 36 where they try to stop these shady characters from doing exactly this.
• And here are some honorable mentions: Cheerleading; Bowling (sorry, Tom!) They recently set up lanes in the middle of Cowboy Stadium in Dallas; Fishing; Skateboarding; Pool

So what’s next? Pie-baking? Women’s reverse parking (sorry ladies!)? Garden-weeding? (I’d be competitive in that!)

While I would give anything to watch a professional squash match on television, I am fully aware the sport is a long way from mainstream media – if it ever gets there at all. For a sport that is one of the most physically demanding on the planet, boasts to have the fittest athletes on the planet and has been deemed to be the healthiest to play on the planet (by Forbes magazine), television coverage is virtually non-existent. But why? Is it because watching Battle-Axe Nelson slice a log with a chainsaw in 10 seconds is actually incredibly stimulating and I’m way off base? I encourage each and every one of you to go to You Tube and search “best professional squash rallies”. There is some insane stuff on there. The glass court and white ball contrast make viewing very easy especially now that most of us have HD televisions at home.

The largest hurdle is this country is simply the unfamiliarity of the sport. Squash is not exactly well-known in the States. It is still normal for me to have to explain what squash is when asked what I do for a living. But it is an elitist sport here. The people who play have deep pockets. And money talks. However, the viewing public also has to be able to relate. Television ratings talk as well and the two are intrinsically intertwined. Higher ratings equal more money. I find golf insufferably boring to watch, but can understand why it gets televised. Yes, money and sponsorship have a lot to do with it, but the average American can associate themselves with the players as most have swung a club before. Same with the Hot-Dog eating contest. We’ve all eaten them. We all know pummeling one every 10 seconds down your esophagus is unadulterated stupidity, so we are glued to watching the nut-cases that do it. There’s a personal connection – so we watch. With squash, there simply isn’t. You could pour all the money in the world into the game, but unless the average Joe can identify himself with the sport, it won’t get on the air.

The answer? I’m open to suggestions. In fact, if you have a decent solution, I would pass it on to the professional squash associations as they can’t seem to solve it either. Squash – in America – needs accessibility. Massive amounts of it. Making it available and affordable so you don’t have to join a private club or attend a prestigious college to have access to courts is a start. Nonetheless, as much as I would love it to be, I am not convinced that even if squash reaches wide-spread audiences that it will achieve a main-stream, prime-time status. And while I ponder this, I wonder if that is even necessary?

The best way to watch professional squash (apart from attending the events in person) is on the internet. Some major events are streamed live, but are pay-per-view. The rare event is free. While the live-streaming service has improved over time, not all events are covered and the service is still a little unreliable. They don’t make it easy - yet. Technology will only develop and it hopefully won’t be long before you can watch Ramy Ashour versus Nick Matthew on your iPhone with a squash app. After all, just about all of us are “connected” to cyber space by some portable gadget that doesn’t leave our side. If that truly becomes the case, then does squash even need television? It’s something to chew on (rather than on hot-dogs!). I won’t then be stuck watching Dexter McGeek spell “q-u-i-z-z-e-r” for a triple point score in scrabble.

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